The account of the Franciscan friars that work in the most degraded areas of Cairo, supporting children and their families

Giacomo Pizzi7 February 2013

The crisis that Egypt is going through in the last few months is a generalised crisis, both political, economical and social. In an article published sometime ago in our website, Father Ibrahim Faltas, Franciscan from the Custody of the Holy Land, upon returning from a trip in Egypt, told us about the harsh reality that he had witnessed: “Some areas in Cairo and Alexandria have turned into a big open-air market: On every corner, along the streets, on the pavement… women, children and men  become sellers of fruit, vegetables or other goods in order to survive the daily poverty, without  showing any respect for the places and with dirt accumulating day after day and thus causing an increase in the precariousness of hygiene. The electricity is disconnected at least four times throughout the day, both for private residences and for commercial activities. And there isn’t always water either!”.

The friars from the Custody of the Holy Land are present in Cairo, where they have a monastery in the neighbourhood of Musky. Here they offer their help to the population, being at the disposal of the most destitute families and their children. Fra Vincenzo Ianniello, an Italian friar that has been living in Egypt for a few years, describes the charity work undertaken by the friars in Musky:

1. Ordinary support provided on a regular basis: medical and educational assistance as well as the supply of food and clothes.

2. Extraordinary support for extra expenses: surgery, shelter, marriages and unexpected events.

3. “Sant’Antonio’s bread”: distributed to the poor people in the neighbourhoods every Tuesday.

4. Every summer, a camp is organised for 40-50 children at the seaside.

5. We try to organise excursions throughout the year for the children and young people in the neighbourhood.

6. Contribution to the educational expenses of the students and those attending university.

7. Contribution to the upkeep and rent of apartments for those families who cannot afford it.

Apart from these charitable services offered by the friars of Musky, it has been decided to open some refuges in overcrowded and extremely poor areas of Cairo that have a total lack of services.

As fra Vincenzo Ianniello explains “with the staggering increase in population that has taken place in the last few decades and the ill-functioning services, there is a total lack of access to food, to health services, to transport and to education in many parts of the city. We have decided to open these refuges in areas in the periphery of Cairo, where there is no access to drinking water,  electricity, sewage or bread ovens. With the opening of a shelter for children we have offered our cooperation to the government in order to support the children and the families that live in these areas. However, we need the support of entities, associations and private citizens who can help us to solve some of the problems that are limiting our intervention“.

The number of children that attend the shelter situated on the upland of Mukattam varies,  between 40 and 60 children at any one time, whereas the staff consists of two teachers, a janitor and a person that deals with general maintenance. “We try to offer these children at least one hot meal a day – explains fra Vincenzo -, as well as didactic material like course-books, notebooks, pens and pencils, and help them to keep a reasonable level of hygiene. Moreover, medical assistance is an important aspect and, with the weekly presence of a doctor, we try to make sure there is a constant control of the health of the children, of the surrounding environment and also of the teachers and the staff.”

Thanks to ATS pro Terra Sancta, that has been supporting the Franciscan friars in Cairo for years through the project “Egypt, supporting the Christians”, it is possible to  support the Egyptian population and, in particular, the most destitute children and families.